Last year there were 114 space launches of which 104 were successful. That is 2 a week and 25% more than three years prior. Extrapolate that and by 2029 humanity will be delivering 221 launches per annum. No wonder everyone is getting their rockets ready.
But behind these numbers there is a much simpler equation. Every time a rocket ascends the sky it carries everything humans need to survive in space, and at $2,720 per kilo that is a long way down from the $18,500 price tag of 2020.
However, those savings have been made, it still costs a lot to launch even the most cost-efficient rocket, so every kilo of cargo must be carefully considered and balanced against other requirements. And every saving is budgetarily important. So where can savings be made?
While the immediate term savings will come for reusable rockets and more efficient engines like Raptor and BE-4, these vehicles will have to carry everything into space to build the next generation of orbital platform, Lunar Gateway and everything else needed to go to Mars and beyond.
And while current rocket technology is relatively lightweight, designed for limited distances and protected by the Earth’s magnetic field, rockets designed to go deeper into space will need to be better shielded both from micro asteroid impact and radiation. So that is a lot of weight to haul into orbit unless we find a better, more economical source.
Much has been made about asteroid mining. Indeed, a couple of enthusiastic proponents went so far as to launch companies, raise money and... then realise how long term a goal asteroid mining really turns out to be. They went bust or got bought cheap and went quiet after all the hullaballoo.
Asteroid mining is more than going and getting. Systems need to be invented that would work remotely, a proven vehicle to journey to the asteroid, collect it and haul it back needs to be designed, tested, and then proven to be reliable enough to get insurance. (A good benchmark for everything commercial is ‘can we get insurance?’ If you cannot, chances are it is not a good commercial prospect for institutional investors or even cavalier billionaires. Not when there are tons of asteroids lying around on the surface of the moon that are a lot easier to collect. These asteroids also come with a lot of obvious benefits already referred to when it comes to the local. When the last metal asteroid has been melted and put through a 3D printer, there is still plenty of iron ore to go for. And mooncrete.
If our ingenuity manages to get some manufacturing capacity working on the moon by the end of the decade then there is a real shot that we will see a sustainable colony on Mars by 2050 (and the Moon by 2035).
And that is where the real pull of space begins.